Abroad as a Faculty of Science Student

A Q & A with second-year Medical Physics student and Engineers Without Borders 2019 Junior Fellow, Pursod Ramachandran.

Pursod Ramachandran, second from the right, in Kumasi, Ghana.

You probably hear a lot of science and engineering students say “It’s not possible for us to go on exchange” and a lot of the time – with a few exceptions – it’s true. But Pursod Ramachandran, a second-year Medical Physics student at Ryerson, still found a way to take his learning global by participating in the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) program

After six months of preparations, the FOS student headed to Kumasi, Africa, for his first experience on the continent. The four month-long trip would require a lot of work – before, during and after – but would be well worth it. Curious to know more, we asked Pursod a few questions about his time abroad.

You recently participated in the Engineers Without Borders Ryerson Chapter as the 2019 Junior Fellow. How did you come across this opportunity and what made you want to do it? What did the selection process entail?

The Ryerson Chapter sent a department email during Fall reading week and being an opportunist, I decided to shoot my shot. The privilege to simultaneously travel and work as a student is humbling, as these opportunities are growing in number but still rare.

The first step was a Google form which, to my surprise, had no technical/engineering questions. They were experiential and interpersonal, focusing on the candidates’ understanding about global development and critical thinking.

This was followed by an in-person interview with the presidents and Returning Junior Fellow, a Ryersonian who has completed the program. This was where critical thinking was tested with a simulated Sub-Saharan African industry challenge and personal development was tested as with normal work interviews.

After successful completion, a Skype interview was done with Engineers Without Borders’ National Office. These questions were focused on how we would respond to cross-cultural barriers and our inspirations for the internship.

If successful there, potential JFs select which social ventures they’d like to work for and the ventures choose which JFs they would like on their team, ultimately determined by National Office.

It was a very demanding process, its pace being exceptionally challenging with a full course load and extracurricular commitments. However, it was a great time management and professionalism exercise. The number of emails and meetings required to secure $8,500 CAD* for the placement has taught me the value of appearance, active listening, grant writing, and timely implementation of different leadership styles.

*The grant was a result of several Ryerson groups and fundraisers that helped to raise the amount. (Physics Department, Science Faculty, RI, President’s Office, Bake Sales).

This year’s venture took place in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. Aside from the time spent on the fellowship, can you tell me a bit about your time there?

In Ghana, there were seven fellows – three were in Accra, and four of us were in Kumasi. We all spent time together when we could, visiting national parks and reflecting on our individual and collective experiences.

In Kumasi, we enjoyed the friendly smiles and the reactive expressions of locals when we attempted to speak Twi, their native language. Every Friday, locals encouraged us to participate in their tradition of wearing vibrant wax print and traditional clothing. The Ghanaian textile industry has a complex history and it is worth looking at the abundance of information about it.

We coordinated trips to various landmarks and libraries, culture centres and wildlife sanctuaries. We even had morning jogs, workout sessions and Sunday yoga classes. Every Wednesday evening, our apartment would be lively with salsa music as our instructors would go over basics, spins and line dances. We started at band, Kumajam, and made music with local instruments.

We cooked meals on weekdays and packed lunches to avoid the midday heat at work the next day. We had an efficient system that was also flexible.

My personal experience is documented in a series of audio clips and this includes language, work weeks, heat, being a Brown Canadian, comfort and control, and music.

Global learning is a great way to expose yourself to new ways of learning. How did this learning experience compare to that of the classroom setting at Ryerson?

My research during my internship, the work that I was doing at my social venture, was analysing the importance of experiential learning and nonformal education in global education systems. In short, this placement was invaluable. It is designed for individuals who either possess an innate desire to grow and learn or for those that have systems in place to guide them for growth. There is no professor, no midterm, no labs, so it crucial for us, the students, to do our own evaluation and really think about how we set up our thoughts. This is what is required for education at a young age. It should be compulsory to have experiences or learning opportunities that are economical and teach similar values to ultimately complement the classroom setting. Its apples and oranges, we need both.

The fellowship is 18 months in total; 6 months of preparations, 4 months abroad, and 8 months of experience in a leadership role at an EWB chapter. What are your next steps? Any other travels in your future?

The next two semesters I will be back at the Ryerson Chapter to assist the executive team with coordinating events and future partnerships on campus. This experience has made me reflective on my heritage and my ancestry in a way that I had never considered. It made me realize the value of creating global teams and international partnerships. As of now, there are existing family businesses in Sri Lanka where my academic background will be useful. That would be my primary focus.

Aside from Sri Lanka, I have always wanted to travel around Japan to explore the cultures. diets and landmarks. It would be really interesting to see how Western influences have changed them as well.

What was the biggest takeaway from your time abroad?

The importance of silence and professional reflection. This means to take the time to think about the overlapping systems in our work and consider which ones need our attention. It includes our outlook on challenges, confrontation, and the value of social dynamics.

What was the best meal you had during your time there?

Fufu: pounded cassava (tuber crop, root vegetables), with a spicy peanut soup and stewed chicken.

Why did you like it so much?

It was the first day of work. I dressed sharp and the sun was relentless. The monsoon season couldn’t come any sooner. My coworkers decided to take us to their favorite local spot. We walked inside the small shaded bungalow where we met a woman behind an open wire counter surrounded by cauldrons of hot soups.

With the choices of chicken, goat, fish with peanut, chicken and fish soups, I decided to try the chicken with the peanut soup. It was served with a huge round ball of pounded cassava, fufu, resembling pizza dough. We washed our hands with a pitcher of water and some soap and began our meal. It reminded me of how I’d eat at home. I pierced the fufu and dipped it in the boiling soup. With a piece of chicken, I tried my first bite. It was hotter than midday heat but it was amazing. I went for more. At this point, I was profusely sweating but so was everyone else. I loved it, no judgement. Just pure content. So now when I have an adequate amount of time to eat, I get fufu. It’s gotten to the point where I dream about it.

Ryerson ComCult PhD Student Presents his Research in Portugal and China

A Q & A with Ryerson PhD Candidate and FCAD Contract Lecturer, Gabriele Aroni.

Having attended the University of Florence in his home country of Italy and United Kingdom’s Oxford Brookes University to pursue masters degrees in Architecture and Digital Media production respectively, it’s safe to say Ryerson ComCult student and PhD candidate, Gabriele Aroni has plenty of international experience.

In May, Gabriele presented his paper, “The Limits of Copyright Law in digital Game Photography” at a conference at the University of Coimbria in Portugal. About a month later he traveled to the Communication University of China in Beijing to present research he’s done on the role of architecture in digital games. We asked him all about these amazing opportunities below.

This past summer, you attended and presented at two international conferences – one in Portugal and another in China. Considering the international audiences you would be presenting to, how did you prepare for them?

I always try to add some information related to the country in which I present, whenever possible. For instance in China, I mentioned various video game laws and brought examples from the Chinese government. Also, just a word of introduction in the local language is always welcome (even in my butchered Mandarin).

The paper you presented in Beijing, “Media Literacy Education for the Promotion of Cultural Heritage and National Image through Digital Games” seems to coincide with several themes often promoted by Ryerson International; can you give a brief synopsis in layman’s terms?

Digital games are now the most diffuse media on the planet, and it thus is the moment that cultural institutions and governments must start considering it as a major vehicle for the diffusion of cultural heritage and national image. How can countries promote themselves, and avoid wrong or inappropriate portrayals of their culture through digital games? There should be collaborations between game developers and institutions in order to create games that can be both commercially successful and educational in their content. To achieve this, though, it is necessary that both game developers and institutions be “literate” in the media they are producing and supervising, so they must have a knowledge of how users interact with games, how they are created, how they function and their possibilities.

Was this your first global learning experience?

No, I previously studied abroad in the UK for my master in Digital Media, and presented at conferences in my native country Italy, as well as Romania. In Portugal, it was a three-day conference hosted by the Faculty of Law of the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest universities in Europe and a lovely town north of Lisbon. The conference welcomed scholars mainly from Europe, but many were from Brazil as well as North America. Talks were held in English and French as the International Roundtable of the Semiotics of Law that organized the conference operates in both languages.

University of Coimbra, Portugal

The 5th International Conference on Media Literacy Education was hosted by the Communication University of China in Beijing. As with the conference in Portugal, many of the attendees came from China itself and neighbouring countries, such as Korea and Pakistan, and conferences were held in both English and Mandarin. There were also several scholars from African countries, such as Zambia and Kenya, many who had studied in China, and they gave fascinating outlooks on the cultural exchanges between these countries.

Did you take advantage of any funding opportunities?

Yes, several in fact. My SSHRC CGS grant already incorporates some funding for travel, and I was also funded by ComCult, the Yates School of Graduate Studies, the Ryerson Students Union and the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University.

Cultural barriers are often unavoidable when travelling. Do you have any advice for others looking to participate in global experiences and/or international conferences?

At least as far as concerns the countries where I have been, I would say that language is the only noticeable cultural barrier. Maybe if you have a cappuccino in Italy after 12:00 p.m. you are going to get “foreigner” painted on yourself, but I have never seen anything out of the ordinary or problematic anywhere. Probably the most important things to be prepared for are also the most mundane such as payment methods or phone compatibility. In China for instance, they are already beyond our cash and credit card-based system, and while they are both still widely accepted, it is good to be aware that some places do not even have a physical cashier anymore.

What was the biggest takeaway from your trip?

Meeting scholars from other countries is always the most rewarding part of international conferences, especially in an academic world strongly dominated by the English language. You get to know ideas and theories that would be hard to come across otherwise, or hear completely new points of view that come from different backgrounds and academic training.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did while abroad?

I ate pig brains in Shanghai. We actually eat them in Florence as well – only fried, though. Not boiled. So I believe that counts.

The 3 Regrets of Exchange


I have never been an impulsive, or a decisive person. Deciding between what colour of sweater to purchase, or mustering up the courage to select a unique menu item, instead of chicken fingers, fills me with immense anxiety. Before departing for my exchange to Edinburgh, Scotland, I came to the realization that I would have to escape my finely crafted comfort zone in order to fully capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity, and not return to Canada filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘I wishes’.

And no, getting a tattoo is not on this list (sorry grandma).

Continue reading The 3 Regrets of Exchange